American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have arrived at Burbank
Airport in Los Angeles after more than four months in detention in
North Korea. The reporters were released in a deal brokered by former
U.S. President Bill Clinton, who landed with the women in California
There were tears and hugs as the two
journalists met with their families inside an airport hangar, following
a whirlwind round of private diplomacy by former president Clinton.
The two women, who were reporting on North Korean refugees, were
arrested in March for allegedly entering North Korea illegally from
China and committing what were called hostile acts. In June, a court
sentenced them to 12 years at hard labor.
Speaking inside an
airport hangar in Los Angeles, Ling said the pair feared at any moment
they could be sent to a labor camp. Just 30 hours before their tearful
reunion, they were summoned to a meeting and, walking through the door,
saw former president Clinton.
"We were shocked, but we knew
instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally
coming to an end," Ling said. "And now we stand here home and free."
Lee and 32-year-old Ling work for Current TV, a youth-oriented cable
news network co-founded by Al Gore, who was vice president in the
Clinton administration. Mr. Gore also addressed reporters.
want to welcome Laura and Euna home," Gore said. "We want to thank
President Bill Clinton for undertaking this mission and performing it
so skillfully and all the members of his team who played key roles in
Mr. Gore also thanked U.S. President Barack Obama and
members of his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, saying all have been deeply involved in what he called the
humanitarian effort to free the women.
"It speaks well of our
country that when two American citizens are in harm's way, that so many
people would just put things aside and just go to work to make sure
that this has had a happy ending," Gore said.
state-controlled media said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pardoned
the women after receiving an apology from Mr. Clinton for their
actions. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Nairobi,
denied that the former president apologized for them. Administration
officials say Mr. Clinton did not address issues beyond the women's
release, including the issue of stalled talks with North Korea on
Mr. Clinton did not speak with
reporters in Los Angeles, but said in a written statement that he
shares a deep sense of relief that the women are safely home after
their long ordeal.
In Washington, President Obama said U.S.
officials are "extraordinarily relieved" that the two have been set
free. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs repeated earlier comments,
saying Mr. Clinton made the journey as a private citizen and carried no
message from the Obama administration. Gibbs said, however, that the
former president will brief Mr. Obama's national security team on his
meeting with the North Korean leader.