SEOUL // Two American journalists have today arrived back in their home country after the former US president Bill Clinton secured their release from a North Korean prison. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were reunited with their families with Ms Lee sobbing with joy as she hugged her four-year old daughter. Ms Ling, 32, threw her arms in the air as she descended the steps from the plane and Lee, 36, broke down in tears as the pair were greeted by their families and the former vice-president Al Gore. Mr Clinton secured their release in a meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il who a US official said was not promised any rewards. The official said Mr Clinton talked to the leadership about the "positive things that could flow" from freeing the pair, who had been held since March.
The Obama administration official did not provide specifics although some analysts have speculated that Clinton's trip could possibly open the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks. Analysts said Washington faced a tricky task of trying to convince North Korea to give up dreams of becoming a nuclear weapons power without being seen to reward it for repeated military acts or ignoring the demands of others in the region.
"President Clinton had made clear that this was a purely private humanitarian mission," the US official told reporters in Washington after Mr Kim granted the journalists a pardon and allowed them to leave with Clinton and fly to Los Angeles. North Korea had agreed in advance that Clinton's trip would not be linked to the nuclear issue, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said North Korea would face deeper isolation if it continued "provocative behaviour" that has included nuclear and missile tests. Washington would maintain efforts to enforce UN sanctions imposed on North Korea over its May 25 nuclear test, the official added.
The two journalists, who work for Current TV, an American TV outlet cofounded by Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, were arrested for illegally crossing into the North from China. They were each sentenced to 12 years hard labour in June. Television footage showed the two journalists wearing green and red shirts and carrying luggage, greeted by Clinton as they boarded a plane. Mr Clinton put his hand over his heart and then gave a final salute to North Korean officials at the airport.