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. brian

    For all of those who think the Obama admin was not involved. Look closely at the pictures and you will see John Podesta in the background with Prez. Clinton. This release was negotiated over the weekend with the help of the Chinese, who threatened to pull their mining companies out of DPRK.

    Diplomacy.

    Good to have the adults back in charge.

    August 4, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  2. Beth

    And people say it's wrong to talk to our enemies because it makes us look weak. How wrong you all are!! THIS is what being a great leader is all about...reaching out to those with whom you may not agree and coming to an understanding. President Obama does it, just as Bill Clinton did it and still does it!

    Kudos to Bill Clinton and everyone involved in this wonderful day. May God Bless Laura Ling and Euna Lee...and may they be in the arms of their loved ones soon!!

    August 4, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  3. Kyle

    If you want things done, get a Democrat. Thanks Bill.

    August 4, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  4. Jim

    well, i'll be darned. given N. Korea's previous actions, i'd not have expected this.

    perhaps humans aren't all bad and there is hope after all.

    August 4, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  5. Roger from CA

    Although a bit overstated by some, it is true that a GOP administration would have been too hidebound to take a diplomatic approach to this, and the poor women would have been held for a long time.

    Instead, for a few verbal gestures (that, I'm sure, the North Koreans liberally twisted in their reporting), and, I imagine, some other modest financial gives, these women are now free, no one got hurt and the matter is closed.

    August 4, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  6. HOLLY

    Republicans couldn't and wouldn't have accomplished the girls' release. The world hated the Bush Administration, hopefully we can regain some of our values with the Obama Adminstration. Congratulations Bill Clinton!!

    August 4, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  7. Joseph, Los Angeles

    For those of you who think this make Obama look bad; think again. President Clinton is there with the blessing and support of the Obama Administration. If McCain and Palin were in power, we'd be at war.

    With Democrats in power, democracy happens.

    August 4, 2009 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  8. Brock

    Its amazing some of you still put a partisan spin on this event... quite sad

    August 4, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  9. Kerry, CA

    Thank you former President Clinton! Hmmm, sending a representative of our nation to talk to our enemies...weren't we told during the campaign that it was "naive" to think this would work?

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

    I just love the Clintons. That a way Bill. You let the world know you still got it. Great Job.

    August 4, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  11. KentD

    Isn't it telling that only Democratic former presidents (Carter and Clinton) are able negotiate people out of jams in foreign countries? Tells me who is respected internationally.

    August 4, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  12. Steph

    Amazing effort by Former Pres. Clinton, Bill Richardson, Secretary Clinton, and everyone else involved in this effort. It doesn't change the fact that N. Korea is run by a crazy man, and they don't deserve any more attention from us. We got what we needed. I am looking forward to seeing Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling safe on American soil!

    August 4, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  13. Rob Johnson

    Oh man! The Clinton haters are going to go NUTS over this.

    The man may have low morals, but he knows how to get things done.

    You don't have to like Bill Clinton, but I would just ask the haters to at least be grateful that those two women aren't rotting in a North Korean jail right now.

    August 4, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  14. Lynne

    Anyone who naively thinks that Bill Clinton hopped on a gov't plane and headed to North Korea without the leg work of Pres. Obama and Hillary Clinton needs to have their heads examined.

    President Obama, Sec of State and Former President Clinton showed the country how to bury the hatchets and work for their country. Kudos to all three of them!!!

    August 4, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  15. Rchardsn

    I'm proud of my President. He has did more than any President has ever did in 8 months. He believes in everyone being treated fair.

    August 4, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  16. carrie

    For those who think Obama did not have a hand in this .....think again!
    No one could have accomplished this without planning , how dumb can you be to think he relied on a former Prez to do his job. It took weeks of planning and diplomacy . a brilliant move for Pres Obama to send Clinton..
    Way to go Dems !!!!!! Make love not war!!!!!

    Obama 2012

    August 4, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  17. Chai-wallah

    Take the high road or the low road; it's your choice! President Clinton is about the only high profile person in American who can travel to any country on Earth and will be gladly welcome.

    This goes for Iran too, even though many will disagree but it is true. Some say his trip show that he can do more than President Obama but that's not exactly true. Bill Clinton would not have made that trip without President Obama's consent and prodding.

    I hate to admit but the facts would have been a disaster if President Bush had gone there. We would all have another war on our hands as the NK would not welcome him.

    Diplomacy trumps arrogance every time. As with the movie "Kill Bill" I'd say "don't mess with Bill" This Bill is real and knows how to deal with all nations. Go Bill!

    August 4, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  18. Axl in Iowa

    I hope so, but we'll see.
    I also hope they're O.K., being imprisoned and all.

    August 4, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  19. Binu

    It is proven once again that diplomacy works better than threats. Three heads are better than one. Obama and Clintons make a wonderful team that can get things done with being prejudice and egoistic.

    August 4, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  20. Scott

    I'm glad to see that these two are going to be released. However, it leaves me thinking one thing. What did Bill promise the Koreans in return. More light water reactors? More heavy fuel for the coming winter? More rice and food? Or more concessions "on behalf" of the American people? The Koreans know how to play ball, but yet, they capitulated in just a day of talks? Bill promised something big. We'll just have to wait and see. But, I'll tell you what this will lead to. More soft ball with the Koreans for another four years and more and more of our resources being sold to the Korean military so they can wage a potential war with South Korea. Everything we've given them went to their military buildup so far. Why stop now? And for all the left wing nut jobs who say that the Republican Party were rooting for failure, hear this: We would have found another way. We wouldn't have made incredible promises to Pyongyang and then indirectly support their military endeavors with our "aid." There is more than one way to skin a cat. We'll just have to wait and see what the Obama government promised Chairman Kim. But, as the Koreans say, "An empty cart rattles louder."

    August 4, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  21. Ruty

    Thank you President Obama and former President Clinton. Both of you did an OUTSTANDING job. you make me proud.

    August 4, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  22. Stacey

    Chalk one up for the Dems.!!!!

    August 4, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  23. Beverly in NC

    Take a close look Mr Cheney – diplomacy works far better in solving international issues than threats, torture, and war!

    Thank God we now have intlelligent people who realize we are safer and will have more problems resolved with diplomacy, respect for others, and good relations with ALL nations when you negotiate instead of starting wars.

    August 4, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  24. Suki78666

    I don't know why people cannot accept that Bill Clinton was the best thing that's happened to this country since FDR. It's a shame a president can only have two terms, because he's the only person that could pull us out of the dire straits that W. got us into. I am a straight democrat, voted for Obama, but he cannot hold a light to President Clinton. Not even Hillary could have handled this situation, obviously. I'm glad he took it upon himself to go to N. Korea, or else these poor girls would have died in prison over there. I'm so proud to say that I have lived during his lifetime, to know what a wonderful, intelligent, selfless humanitarian he is. It's pretty pathetic that countries all over the world appreciate him more than his own country. He is what a leader should be and he's one in a million. Great job President Clinton!!

    August 4, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  25. Shawn from MD

    Well what can I say? Diplomacy vs War....; talks vs shoot first talk later....; respect vs "you are with us or against us"...;
    No brainer there.

    August 4, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
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