Former President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to North Korea Tuesday, met personally with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-Il, and came away with pardons for Euna Lee and Laura Ling. The two journalists working for former VP Al Gore’s Current TV were arrested on North Korea’s border with China in March.
Lee and Ling, both Americans, were recently sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally entering North Korea – although it still remains unclear whether they were filming inside North Korea or snatched from Chinese territory by North Korean border guards. In any case, experts on the bizarre workings of the isolated North Korean government indicated that the conviction cleared the way for negotiations to begin in earnest for their release. Indeed, that happened quickly once an important American set foot on North Korean soil.
It turned out to be not Gore who made the trip to North Korea, but the man who once was the only one outranking him the in US Government. Although former President Clinton is married to the current Secretary of State, the Obama Administration maintains that Clinton is on a private visit, not as a representative of the United States.
After a photo op with Kim Jong-Il, Clinton got to meet with the two American journalists. By that point, the official North Korean news agency was announcing a “special pardon” granted to them by the country’s leader. The two then flew out of North Korea with Clinton, reportedly bound for Los Angeles.
Kim Jong-Il has seldom been seen in public in 2009 and is believed to have suffered health problems in the latter part of 2008. Some reports have suggested that he has pancreatic cancer, while others indicated that he had suffered a stroke. The North Korean leader appeared thin in photos taken with Clinton, as he did in photos released a few months ago by the government to counter rumors that he had died or was near death.
RBR/TVBR observation: “I have hope the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee means the government of North Korea understands the basic right of journalists to investigate and report as they see fit,” said a statement by Stacey Woelfel, RTNDA Chairman. We hope that as well – but we aren’t optimistic that is really the case.