(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
Kim Jong Il is short an idiot
Why did CNN have to add the "puckered lips" picture of Clinton and Kim? They could have found better pictures than those. Funny though.
You go Bill!
I wonder what would have happened if ol' Georgie went down there to talk with the ill Kim Jong?
I'd bet that we'd have 3 detainees instead of two.
What do you think?
You have to hand it to him. Slick Willie did an AWESOME job in getting them released from prison. Congratulations!
So, how many billions did that cost the US taxpayers?
Good job, Bill. Now, whenever this little runt wants some publicity and an air of legitimacy for his tyrranical dictatorship, he knows all he has to do is take more westerners prisoner.
While your at it, why don't you stop by Iran on your way home and lick Ahmadinajad's boots also. We may get our hikers back and another insecure dictator will feel empowered and superior to the U.S. (And isn't your brilliant wife supposed to be doing this stuff?)
What a wonderful event for the families of these women. Perhaps the country will be able to simply celebrate their release without dissecting this and politicizing it?
This is another reaon that I would have liked Hillary Clinton to be our President, because we would have ended up getting 2 for 1.
It is a shame that Bill Clinton could not have had another term or two in the Whitehouse. We would not be in the mess that our country is in. Nor would we have lost over 4, 000 American soldiers, and lost so many billions of dollars.
I hope that Hillary Clinton will run for the Presidency in 2012.
Obama should watch and pay attention to how a really great President works!
Nice work, William Jefferson!!!
Great job, FP Clinton.....You've still got it......Congrats to Ms. Ling and Lee.....Get on safely.......God bless the Obama Administration, and this US of A.......
And on the sly we delivered some documents on missile or satellite technology... ?
Good job Bill, now that this is handled...onto more important matters...
If the republicans were at the White House they would either let these two young American die in North Korean jail or start a war to kill more Americans. Republicans, Lou Dobb and CNN always Act STUPIDLY.
At least these young women get to go home to their fams – that's whats important here.
sure makes Obozo look weak
Prayers have been answered, thank you Mr President and former Pres Clinton,and former VP Gore for being able to deal with the likes of N Korea.
Doubtful it would have happened uner the Bush yrs.
Now how will the GOP spin this to make it look bad! More and more hate is coming from the right with each passing day in the political world, it makes my heart hurt.
So thank you again for the Obama administration and the good they are doing to bring some pride back to us arounf the world.
I will continue to pray for my President and my country.
About these 3 things, the Republicans don't have any clue or knowledge.
Republicans just want War.
Thank God, these Republican Idiots are not running our Government any more.
I hope former President Clinton made these two clowns sign an agreement that for their freedom they 1) won't write a book, 2) won't make a TV movie, 3) won't visit every talkshow for the next month and 4) won't be on Larry King Live tonight (or ever)!!
The Clintons are so bloody cool.
FANTASTIC!!! kUDOS To former President Bill Clinton. The North Koreans were grsacious enough to relase the falsely accused journalist who were used as pawns to make a political statement.
President Obama used jusitifable poise and leadership by staying quiet so as to not disrupt the delicate balancing act between the U.S and North Korea.
This is a good day.
Thank you Bill Clinton.
Jonathan Burton I like your take on the situation.
Well done Bill, though I suppose he knew a head of time that he would be successful.
Maybe Bill brought Monica with him for ol Kim Jong Il.
Good Job Willie !!!!! Wish you were back in office instead of the dufuss we have now.