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. ImaLindatoo

    Thank you President Clinton. You did great and are shining bright with your masterful diplomacy and experience fully in check as you bring home the two journalists.

    Excellent, sir.

    August 4, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  2. randy in pa

    Wonderful!!!!!!

    Show a little respect (no matter how rotten the other side is) and it's surprising what you can accomplish. If only our government ran that way.

    Way to go Bill!

    August 4, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. stevie raymie

    apology for the journalist intrusion..................

    it appears to be a message from Obama
    good job..............give them credability to surpress free speach

    so sad....................

    August 4, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  4. michaelam

    Nice work, President Clinton........You still have it in you. We all know the former administration could not pull this off without there being any bloodshed involved. Excellent example of fine diplomacy!

    Get home safely, ladies!

    August 4, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  5. D

    Clinton '16!

    Awesome job, Mr. President!

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  6. Gene

    Thank you Bill.. even though you have tons of Republicans screaming that you should stay home and stay out of everyone's business, I don't think there's anything they can possibly say that's bad about this.

    But, I could be wrong :)

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. ET

    They have stayed in Korea, they broke their law and should have payed. The three in Iran should be told they are on their own. The United States don't have any guts at all, they should force the Mexicanc out of the U.S. at gun point, or bury them.

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  8. Really

    Didn't Hillary try to get this done earlier this year? Looks like Bill upstaged his "wife." Bill's a smooth talker.

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  9. CHANGE.COM

    Diplomacy always work! Not only were the North Koreans looking for attention but they were looking for some respect. The trial and imprisonment of the journalists was just a side show in a desparate attempt at being shown some "respect" by the world powers, especially, the USA. That's the same line of thought by the non-alligned nations of the world.

    August 4, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. David from WI

    Its great the the journalist get to go home.

    What did the N Koreans get from their EXTORTION? How is the administration going to spin this?

    Can this look more awkward for President Obama? Oh that's right its the GOPs fault I guess, or the health insurance companies, or any number of the, critics of the leftists of the Democratic party.

    Good job Pres Clinton. Pres Obama ...well...not so much.

    Kim Jong Il 1, Pres Clinton 1, Pres Obama 0,

    Now the ruckuses at the Dem town halls are insurance company or GOP plants. 'we are at war with Eurasia and have always been at war with Eurasia' I guess.

    Is it 2010 or 2012 yet?

    August 4, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  11. Matt

    Nice work Bill!

    Now head down to Gitmo and do the same; so we can once again lead by EXAMPLE.

    August 4, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  12. LLM in MD

    @ Jonathan Burton-that made me laugh–LOL...

    Seriously....Thanks President Clinton for a job well done. You are as smooth as you've always been. GOD Bless you, GOD Bless the Obama Administration and GOD Bless the USA.

    Welcome home Ling and Lee :-)

    August 4, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  13. mike,texas

    I bet the party of NO will complain about this too.

    August 4, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  14. SeaWife

    President Clinton. What a masterful job well done.

    Kudos to you, Sir.

    August 4, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  15. Danny, WA

    Bill Clinton should have taken Al Gore or even Jimmy Carter with him. Our President in the white house does not think that it is his job to rescue Americans. He needs these retired presidents.

    August 4, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  16. mike,texas

    I used to be a republican untill I got an education.Life beyond ignorance.

    August 4, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. Red

    Good job Billy. While your at it give some training to Obama on how to be an executive and we might get back on track.

    August 4, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  18. Marcus, Great Lakes, IL

    You say what you have got to say to get what you want sometimes. Who cares what was said, the end justified the means.

    Good going Mr. Clinton, good going.

    Be gone nay sayers!!

    August 4, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  19. Alana

    I am thrilled at this great news, and so happy for the 2 journalists. Bill is, and always will be the greatest politician. Like many comments I see here, I too believe the Republicans would have left them to rot.

    August 4, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  20. RBJ

    Even if you don't like the democrats, you have to give them credit for their international diplomacy. They are bringing our americans back home. First the captain and now the journalists. GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!

    August 4, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. Alan

    I just love the anti-Clinton remarks. You're so blinded by your hatred you can't see past your nose.

    GW would have told North Korea they're with us or agin' us and let the two hang rather than attempt to negotiate their release.

    Good move, Presidents Clinton and Obama! It's SO nice to have someone in office who knows what it takes to work WITH people rather than turn them all against us.

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  22. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    Good job Mr President Bill Clinton

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  23. Mike Moderate

    Diplomacy= Democrats

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  24. Big Red

    Shoulda traded Dubyah for the gals. Not such a fair trade, N. Korea getting the short end of that stick, but George could've given 'em a few nuclear testing tips!

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  25. Realist

    Great job, Mr. President. I knew you would because you are the master negotiator and always look out for the best interest of the US of A.

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
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