August 4th, 2009
04:37 PM ET
5 years ago

Kim Jong Il pardons and orders release of 2 U.S. journalists

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with top North Korean officials in Pyongyang to appeal for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with top North Korean officials in Pyongyang to appeal for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

(CNN) - North Korean President Kim Jong Il has pardoned and ordered the release of two U.S. journalists, state-run news agency KCNA said Wednesday.

The announcement came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with top North Korean officials in Pyongyang to appeal for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been arrested while reporting from the border between North Korea and China.

"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.

"The meetings had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."


The report said Clinton then conveyed a message from U.S. President Barack Obama "expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries."

It added, "The measure taken to release the American journalists is 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."

DPRK is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the nation's official name.

The two American journalists had been held in the reclusive communist nation since their arrest in March.

Earlier in the day, White House Secretary Robert Gibbs said Clinton was on a "solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans."

Ling and Lee are reporters for California-based Current TV - a media venture launched by Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore.

The two were sentenced in June to 12 years in prison on charges of entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign. Since the United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, efforts to resolve the issue had been handled through Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in Pyongyang.

The visit by the former president, whose wife, Hillary, is now the Obama administration's secretary of state, came about three weeks after the United States dropped a request that Ling and Lee be released on humanitarian grounds. Instead, the United States was seeking amnesty for the women, Hillary Clinton said.

A plea for amnesty implies forgiveness for some offense, which could have given North Korea the chance to release the women without feeling that its legal system had been slighted, according to analyst Mike Chinoy, an Edgerton senior fellow on Asia at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.

Prior to the release, Chinoy said, "I suspect that it was made pretty clear in advance that Bill Clinton would be able to return with these two
women, otherwise it would be a terrible loss of face for him."

Clinton's mission came as the United States and its allies in the region are seeking to push North Korea back into stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test, its second, in May, and has conducted several missile tests since then. The United Nations responded to those tests by tightening and expanding sanctions on the nation.

North Korea and the United States were on opposite sides in the 1950-1953 Korean War and had no regular contacts before a 1994 crisis over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea agreed at that time to halt the development of nuclear weapons, but abandoned that accord and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

Clinton had considered visiting North Korea in 2000, near the end of his second term as president. His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, had gone to Pyongyang in early 2000 to meet with Kim.

The 67-year-old North Korean leader was widely reported to have suffered a stroke a year ago and is believed to be grooming his youngest son, Kim Jon UN, as his successor.

– CNN's Elaine Quijano and Charlie Moore contributed to this story


Filed under: Bill Clinton
soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    What a set up. Kinda like Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his weirdness. I guess it is true the the Korean dear leader is just as phony as our dear leader.

    August 4, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  2. Zion

    Thank God. Thank God for Pres. Obama and my former Pres. Clinton for proving that if you don't treat people like idiots, sometimes they respond.

    August 4, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  3. Junius

    Way to go Bill! When two democratic presidents work together, lives are saved. When two republican presidents work together, like lil bush getting advice about how to keep America safe and run the country, from Papa bush, 3,000 people die and the economy runs off a cliff.

    August 4, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  4. lb

    Please put Bill back in the closet where he belongs. He disgraced the Oval Office, he lied to congress and the public, was 1 vote away from impeachment and should no longer be aligned with the government!!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  5. daisyinAtlanta

    CNN. PLEASE STOP STIRRING THE MUD. PUT THAT BEHIND US.

    i think President Obama made a brilliant move when initiate the beer summit. very appropriate.

    August 4, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  6. Tom

    WAY TO GO PRES. CLINTON!

    And Sec. State Hilary Clinton

    And The State Dept.

    And the White House and Pres. Obama.

    This didn't just happen over a 4 hour period.

    This clearly has been set-up to take place over the last several weeks of very active and sensitive DIPLOMACY!

    Remember that word... DIPLOMACY.... it's good to see it back into action... instead of "Axis of Evil" and "You're either with us or against us".

    August 4, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  7. LG - the G is for Gonzalez

    Where's the OTHER former president when you need him? You know, the one that just left. Apparently, he's happy sweltering in the Permian Basin, and not willing to help fellow Americans in trouble. Thankfully, Bill is here, and ready to do the right thing. Say what you will about Slick Willy, but he'll get the job done.

    August 4, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  8. Tom Paine

    I wonder what Bill gave the North Koreans for this....another Nuke reactor?

    August 4, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  9. Lucy

    It takes a Clinton!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  10. AEB

    Just look at what the Dems can do. These journalists would have rotten in prison if it were George Bush still in office. Congrats Presidents Obama and Clinton. Greta job!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  11. T KS

    Way to go Ex Pres Clinton! You Rock!

    August 4, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  12. Rob

    Amazing! Thank you, thank you, President Clinton!

    August 4, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. AEB

    Just look at what the Dems can do. These journalists would have rotten in prison if it were George Bush still in office. Congrats Presidents Obama and Clinton. Great job!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  14. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Well done Mr. President.

    August 4, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. jeremy.....Dallas...Texas

    Well done Mr Clinton. Mr Bush should travel to Iran and secure the release of the three hickers.

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. S M R

    This is huge news for the Obama Administration, the American People and the World. Another positive step towards improving relations around the world. It sure helps to have a loving President at the helm.

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  17. Paul Bjork

    Why did you choose two very unflattering photos to accompany this story? Gutter journalism again, CNN. I expect more from CNN.

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. Rob

    Only a Democratic leader could accomplish this!

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  19. Randolph Carter

    Bubba gits 'er done. Good job. I hope he picked up some Cuban cigars while he was there. Have a nice day!

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  20. caminito

    I wonder if this disproportionate ex-presidents intervention was his or
    Hillary's idea, not approved by the President, in order to reccuperate
    limelight from the opaque secretary of state performance of Hillary.

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  21. Dale

    What did the US give up for the release of the two reporters? They should have had a trial or release for not breaking any laws.

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  22. Larry

    Maybe Kim Jong is feeling the pressure from the world for his missile launches and nuclear program.

    Maybe he's ready for a diplomatic solution for his country.

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  23. Cnnt

    HAHAHHAHAH HAH AH HA HA *wipes tears* HAHA HAHAHA.

    Seriously though, I'm glad to see our citizens being returned and god bless them and their families. At least SOMEONE was able to help them.

    Now, does he have to get the hikers back from IRAN too?

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  24. Rani McBride

    If anyone could secure the release of these two Journalists it would be Bill Clinton. Thanks again Bill.

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  25. Mar

    Good job president Clinton!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
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