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. Kim

    How wonderful to see real, live DIPLOMACY in action. Well done Pres. Clinton, Secy. Clinton, and Pres. Obama. HHHmmm, I wonder if we traded Dubya for the 2 female journalists......

    August 4, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. Mike Moderate

    Diplomacy= Democrats

    Axis of Evil=GOP

    What's next ....the conservative pundits showcase Clinton as begging and bowing down tothe enemy instead of saluting the efforts to frre two of our citizens.

    I have had enough of the GOP saying NO to everything with no reasoning except that it is not their idea.

    August 4, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  3. Excuse me?

    Diplomacy works again. Had John & Sarah been in charge, we would have started a war there, too!

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  4. Peter

    Wao! diplomacy works bravo!!. sanity prevailed over insanity! the democrates can really restore the pride of this country and make it even more greater!!

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  5. Drew, FL

    Way to go Bill.

    See what happens when you apply real diplomacy.

    And what did the GOP do? NO-thing. Party of NO strikes out again.

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  6. Clinton expressed words of sincere apology

    well, what ever gets them home

    but I think the N. Korea leader should rot in hell

    boy, he looks crazy, does he have syphlis? I hear that makes you bonkers

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  7. Angel

    It's clear that the little tyrant released these women to Clinton in order to make Obama look ineffective. It was a manipulative stunt. However, regardless of how it happened, it's a wonderful thing that they are free - bravo, Bill!

    August 4, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  8. David

    See what happens when you try to work WITH countries rather than AGAINST them? Conservative foreign policy is the thing of wars, death, and fear – and has no place in our world. Period.

    August 4, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  9. cm

    Is all about Real Diplomacy people, not cowboy style diplomacy, please stop looking for the bad reasons for not to use diplomacy and acknowledge that in this case diplomacy did work.
    For all those who want to say bad things about this act and look for the wrong reasons and bash and trash The Clintons and Obama administration got ahead and do it, anyway is been proven that the cowboy talk does not work and got our country in the Iraq war for the wrong reasons. I don’t see anything wrong in using The Clintons for the good of our country. I’m very happy for the family of the two journalists that finally would be able to have them back home.

    August 4, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  10. John

    Great DIPLOMACY, Not WAR.

    When Georgie the Bush, attacked Iraq, they threw shoes at him.

    What a shame, to attack a timid country by these Republicans.

    Republicans are Cowards. They only attack timid countries.

    Why didn't Georgie attack Russia or China, when China forced US planes to land in 2001.

    August 4, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  11. jennifer

    Thank you Mr President! Thank you President Clinton. Thank you VP Gore. Thank you SOS Clinton. I am so happy for my fellow americans that will now be coming home. Diplomacy is wonderful. And for the people who will say "all Obama does is say I'm sorry" ...what would you save face or a life?

    August 4, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  12. Tricia, Florida

    Thank you to President Obama and the Clintons, whatever brought about this deal and sent Mr. Clinton to North Korea, Great job!!!

    Welcome home ladies.

    August 4, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  13. yuri

    Atta boy, Bill! Your next move could be that of a peace mediating expert and who knows-you might land a Nobel Prize just like Gore did. Keep it up, Billy boy!

    August 4, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  14. Blake

    Congrats Former prez Clinton.

    But I predict that those deriding this success (the Right) will grasp on to this:

    "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,"

    As continued justification for their hate of the administration
    Without realizing, or realizing and just choosing to lie, that these statements CAME FROM THE N. KOREAN MEDIA's VERSION OF WHAT HAPPENED.

    All those times the Right disregard what N. Korea says as propaganda will grasp on to this as absolute truth. Just watch.

    August 4, 2009 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  15. Addy

    Once again it takes a Democrat to get things done!! Way to go!!!

    August 4, 2009 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  16. former republican

    Thank you President Clinton! Never thought that I would say that out loud...but I am. And before all you right-wing extremists start spewing of the mouth...shut up! No matter what party your affiliated with, this is a good thing.

    August 4, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  17. Jim Vogh

    All hail to the Chief!!

    August 4, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  18. Valerie

    Forgive the ignorance...but I was never under the impression that these 2 journalists were hostile. Perhaps that was just an over the top apology to get the women released. If I am missing something please reply and get me up to speed!

    What a relief for these women and their families! I am thankful to have them rescued...and by Bill Clinton! I swoon ;)

    August 4, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  19. David

    This is further proof that diplomacy does not work!

    J/K. You go, Bill!

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  20. AndyL

    Slick Willie is pretty good at begging for forgiveness, ask Hillary

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  21. Randolph Carter

    You gotta love the pictures CNN chose for this story! Nice job Ex-Pres. Clinton. Have a nice day!

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  22. Jim

    This is a great diplomatic accomplishment by Obama's administration! Diplomacy works better than threats or bluster if the chief negotiators know what they're doing. I'm confident Obama's administration will do equally well in other tough negotiations involving Iran, Israel, the Middle East, Sudan, Venezuela, Russia, Honduras, etc. etc.

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  23. Grrr-awful-o

    Bill Clinton pulled off what Barack Obama couldn't. Interesting comparison of presidencies.

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  24. Marc

    The KCNA will say anything that their masters want to make it look like the journalist were wrong and had to be punished for their 'misbehavior/crime' against North Korea.
    But I want, and thanks to former president Clinton I will be able to, to hear what the journalists themselves have to say about the whole situation, from their 'arrest' (read: capture) to their arrival in US soil.
    Especially about how they were prosecuted and judged...

    August 4, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  25. Zaley

    Republicans will come out screaming against this one......they were in hopes the Clintons and President Obama would fail at gaining their release. Heck with their lives, the GOP wanted failure.

    August 4, 2009 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
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