WASHINGTON – Former President Bill Clinton flew to North Korea on Monday to negotiate the release of two American journalists who have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, South Korean media reported.
China’s official New China News Agency reported today that Clinton “appears to have landed” at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
The White House and State Department declined to comment Monday night. But in recent weeks, the Obama administration has signaled a shift in tone regarding the reporters – calling for “amnesty” – in contrast to earlier demands for a “humanitarian release.”
The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were seized near the Chinese border in March while working on a story about North Korean defectors. The communist state said the women – who were working for San Francisco-based Current TV, co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore – were convicted of “grave crimes” and “slander” against the nation, and Ling recently told her sister by telephone that she and Lee broke North Korean laws.
Clinton commands respect in North Korea because he nearly visited Pyongyang in the waning days of his term and because North Korea’s top military commander, Jo Myong-rok, met with him in Washington in 2000, said Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor who advised President George W. Bush on North Korea.
“It is entirely possible” that no agreement has been set for the journalists’ release, Cha said. “But it would be very difficult for the North not to give these people up” to a former U.S. president.