Bill Clinton Delivers: Jailed U.S. Journalists in North Korea Pardoned


clinton-koreaThe two American journalists jailed in North Korea have been pardoned and are expected to return home with former President Bill Clinton. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il issued a “special pardon” for the reporters after Clinton made a surprise visit to the communist nation to negotiate their release. During the visit, Clinton met with Kim as well as Laura Ling and Euna Lee — the reporters sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor after North Korea accused them of sneaking into the country illegally and engaging in “hostile acts.” The public breakthrough in talks was reached in the course of a day. But sources said the framework for the journalists’ release had been negotiated ahead of time.

Clinton’s private plane is still on the ground, sources said, and the White House is not yet offering details on the mission.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who was peppered with questions about the matter at the daily press briefing, said the main concern is for the safety of the journalists.

“I think we’re obviously talking about something that’s extremely sensitive,” he said earlier. “We will have more to say on this hopefully later on.”

Gibbs revealed little beyond the terse written statement his office put out Tuesday morning. The statement called Clinton’s visit a “solely private mission” to secure the journalists’ release and said the White House would not “jeopardize” his success by commenting.

Though analysts said Clinton must have coordinated closely with the administration, Gibbs denied a report in state media that said Clinton conveyed a verbal message to Kim from President Obama.

“That’s not true,” Gibbs said.

North Korea’s state media said Kim and Clinton held “exhaustive” talks on a wide range of topics. Kim expressed his thanks, and engaged Clinton in a “wide-ranging exchange of views on matters of common concern,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a report from Pyongyang.

Clinton landed Tuesday morning in the North Korean capital in an unmarked jet. After greeting North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and a high-ranking parliamentary official, he bowed and smiled as a young girl presented him with flowers, a red scarf tied around her neck, according to footage aired by television news agency APTN.

The unusually warm exchange Tuesday between officials from communist North Korea and the ex-leader of a wartime foe came amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the regime’s nuclear program. In recent months, North Korea has abandoned a disarmament pact, launched a long-range rocket, conducted a nuclear test and test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles in defiance of the U.N. Security Council.

Clinton made the trip to secure the release of two reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s California-based Current TV media venture who were arrested along the North Korean-Chinese border in March.

The U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, but officials were believed to be working behind the scenes to negotiate their release.

Clinton, whose administration had relatively good relations with Pyongyang; Gore, his vice president; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who in the 1990s traveled twice to North Korea to secure the freedom of detained Americans, had all been floated as possible envoys to bring back Lee and Ling.

However, the decision to send Clinton was kept quiet. A senior U.S. official later confirmed to reporters traveling to Africa with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the former president was in North Korea.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced Clinton’s visit with a brief dispatch but did not say who he would be meeting during his trip.

But analysts said Kim Jong Il was eager to smooth over relations with Washington as he prepares to name a successor.

Kim, 67, reportedly is in ill health, suffering a stroke a year ago on top of chronic diabetes and heart disease. He rules the impoverished communist nation of 24 million with absolute authority, but has not publicly named the next leader. He is believed, however, to be grooming his third son, 26-year-old Jong Un, to take over.

Internal stability is key to a smooth transition, and establishing relations with Washington would be one way to rule out a threat from a superpower that has 28,500 troops stationed just on the other side of the border with South Korea, analysts said. The two Koreas remain technically at war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

Releasing the journalists would serve as a face-saving segue into talks, analysts said.

During a nuclear standoff with North Korean in 1994, former President Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang and met with leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s late father. That visit, during Clinton’s presidency, led to a breakthrough accord months later.

The last high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Kim Jong Il was Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state, who visited Pyongyang in 2000 at a time of warming relations. Ties turned frosty when George W. Bush took office in the White House in 2001.

Since Obama took office, Pyongyang has expressed interest in one-on-one negotiations with Washington. The latest provocations were seen in part as a way to draw a concerned U.S. into bilateral talks.

Washington says it is willing to hold such talks with the North, but only within the framework of international disarmament negotiations in place since 2003. Those talks involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States. North Korea has said it will never return to the six-nation disarmament process.

Lee and Ling were captured in North Korea’s far northeast in the midst of the nuclear standoff. They had traveled to the border region in China to report on women and children defectors from North Korea.

Their families and U.S. officials had pushed for their release, noting that Ling has a medical condition and that Lee has a 4-year-old daughter.

Hillary Clinton had urged North Korea to grant them amnesty, saying the women were remorseful and their families anguished.

{FOX News/CNN Ticker/ Newscenter}


  1. And since Clinton was so successful, let’s send him to get Ron ben Batia (Arad), Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah (Katz), Tzvi ben Pnina (Feldman), Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam (Baumel), and Guy ben Rin (Hever) out of Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. May HaShem watch over our boys and return them to their families sound and healthy.

  2. All these are graet ideas but there is only one problem “they are Jewish”. Jews don’t deserve things that others do [eg;Peace loving Palestinians]…

  3. Hesh, you are right. May HaShem return Gil’ad ben Aviva to his family, sound and healthy. And it’s OK if Bill & Hillary claim the credit for it, as long as we get Gil’ad back.