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Obama Welcomes Return of Journalists Jailed in N. Korea

  • Aru Pande

U.S. President Barack Obama is welcoming the release of two American journalists who were detained in North Korea, but U.S. officials say the move will not necessarily result in a warming of relations between the two countries. Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned home to the United States early Wednesday after being pardoned by the North Korean government, during a visit to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton.

A humanitarian mission to bring two U.S journalists home ended successfully with a plane carrying Euna Lee and Laura Ling arriving California early Wednesday.

President Barack Obama expressed relief in remarks to reporters in Washington.

"The reunion that we've all seen on television I think is a source of happiness not only for the families but for the entire country," he said.

President Obama made no mention of the the tense relations between the U.S. and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear test in May and its test-firing of long and short-range missiles.
U.S. administration officials have repeatedly said Mr. Clinton's mission was private and his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not involve any issues beyond the release of the U.S. journalists, including the stalled talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC News she did not want people to confuse her husband's humanitarian mission with U.S. policy -- one that continues to offer choices to North Korea.

"They can either continue on the path they are on, or perhaps they will now be willing to start talking to us within the context of six party talks about the international desire to see them de-nuclearized," she said.

Mr. Clinton is the second former U.S. president to travel to Pyongyang, after Jimmy Carter's visit in 1994.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was critical of the Clinton mission and says the trip may have sent a signal to North Korea that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with terrorists. He says the former president's humanitarian mission to Pyongyang may also give a domestic political boost to Kim Jong Il but he acknowledges it may open the door for renewed dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea.

"I think it's possible that this could lead to the six-party talks resuming or more direct bilateral conversations with the United States. That's been North Korea's goal for over a decade now, to get back to the bilateral deals that they made during the Clinton administration," he said.

Officials with the current U.S. administration now will wait to see how this week's developments play out in efforts to normalize ties between the two countries.

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