Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday she hopes North Korea will grant "amnesty" to two American journalists held by Pyongyang since March. Reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling were given 12-year prison terms last month for illegally entering North Korea and another unspecified offense.
The Obama administration had previously been urging the release of the two journalists on humanitarian grounds.
Now, in an apparent policy shift, it is calling for "amnesty" for the two women based on their expressions of remorse for their actions.
The two women, who work for the California-based broadcast outlet Current TV, were arrested in mid-March along the China-North Korea border as they worked on a story about North Korean refugees crossing into China.
On June 8, they were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp for illegally entering North Korea and another unspecified "serious offense."
The State Department signaled the change in its approach to the case Thursday when a spokesman called for their release "on amnesty grounds," a formulation that seemed to imply acceptance of the North Korean judicial process.
Secretary Clinton reiterated that position Friday in response to a question at a "town hall meeting" with State Department employees.
"The two journalists and their families have expressed great remorse for this incident," she said. "And I think everyone is very sorry that it happened. What we hope for now is that these two young women would be granted amnesty through the North Korean system and be allowed to return home to their families as soon as possible."
Clinton told reporters on the day the two women were sentenced that the case should be viewed as a humanitarian matter and that they should be granted clemency by North Korea and deported.
The State Department has welcomed the fact that North Korea has allowed consular access to the two women by the Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang, who represents U.S. interests there.
They have also been able to make a few calls home to family members in the United States.
Earlier this week, Laura Ling was allowed to telephone her sister, Lisa Ling, in California.
Lisa Ling, who is also a television journalist, told reporters her sister had a "very specific message" to convey in that call - that she and her jailed colleague had violated North Korean law, and that they need U.S. government help.
Lisa Ling said her sister told her the two jailed reporters are sorry about everything that happened, and now are relying on diplomacy to gain their freedom.