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."
Thirty-six-year-old 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.
"We 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 this."
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.
North Korean 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 nuclear non-proliferation.
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.