Bill Clinton in North Korea to negotiate journalists' release

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea Tuesday, state media reported, in an effort to gain the release of two American journalists who were arrested in March and have been in the North's custody ever since.

The Clinton mission was earlier reported by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, and an Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the situation's sensitivity, said that sending the former U.S. president as an envoy was discussed within the Obama administration last week.

Yonhap reported that Clinton was en route to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where he'd try to secure the release of the two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, declined to comment. A State Department spokesman, Andrew Laine, also declined to comment.

The Obama administration has had back-channel talks with North Korea for several weeks over sending an envoy to resolve the situation, according to U.S. officials.

Among the names that have come up: former Vice President Al Gore, whose cable television venture Ling and Lee were working for, along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former President Jimmy Carter.

The Asian diplomat said that U.S. officials last week discussed dispatching Clinton, adding that, "It looks like he went there."

Should the mission prove a success, it also could help unfreeze six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, which have been stalled amid charges and counter-charges and an apparent effort in Pyongyang to smooth the way for an eventual successor to ailing leader Kim Jong-Il.

Ling and Lee, were arrested on March 17 along the Chinese-North Korean border, and charged with illegally entering North Korea.

While convicted in June and sentenced to 12 years hard labor, the two journalists aren't thought to have been sent to one of the North's labor camps, and instead were reported to be in a Pyongyang guest house — which U.S. and South Korean officials took as a sign that the North was willing to bargain over their fate.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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