NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-il pardons American journalists

Kim grants "special pardon" after meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Pyongyang

The Korea Herald
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has granted a special pardon to two American journalists held for illegally entering North Korea on a reporting tour, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, according to Yonhap News.

"Kim Jong Il issued an order of the Chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labor in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them," the report said.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, now in Pyongyang to seek their release, "courteously conveyed a verbal message of U.S. President Barack Obama expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries," the report said.

The pardon comes just hours after Kim Jong-il hosted a dinner party for Clinton, who flew into Pyongyang Tuesday to negotiate the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the San Francisco-based Internet outlet Current TV. They were arrested in March on the China-North Korea border while reporting on refugees fleeing the isolated state and sentenced in June to 12 years in a labor camp for an unspecified "grave crime" and illegal border crossing.

Clinton also met with Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the KCNA said, adding that Clinton, while meeting with Kim Jong-il and other officials, "had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between the DPRK and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them." DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The report did not elaborate on what was discussed. Allegations are that Kim Jong-il asked for a package solution to the nuclear standoff, including normalization of ties, massive economic aid and establishment of a permanent regime to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, however, dismissed the KCNA's report, describing the visit as a "solely private mission" and reaffirming that the journalists' detainment is a humanitarian issue that has nothing to do with the current crisis stemming from North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.