After 140 long days into the North Korean nightmare of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, an unexpected visitor arrived, former President Bill Clinton.
On Tuesday, August 4 in a surprise move, ex-President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang on a private mission to initiate the delicate negotiations for their release.
He traveled as a private citizen on a humanitarian mission.
Although not an official government sanctioned visit, Clinton was greeted by Yang Hyong Sop, Vice-President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and Kim Kye Gwan, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was presented with flowers by a young Korean girl.
After meeting with Kim Jong-il, the reclusive Korean leader granted a special pardon to Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
Shortly, thereafter, they were on a plane headed for the U.S.
On March 17 Ling and Lee were detained in North Korea while on assignment for San Francisco-based Current TV – a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
Ling and Lee were stopped and later arrested by North Korean border guards while they were shooting video along the China/North Korea border for a story they were working on about the trafficking of women in the region.
Both women were transported to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, where they remained under arrest until their trial.
They were found guilty on June 8 and sentenced to 12 years of reform through labor for illegal entry and grave crimes against the North Korean state.
They were allowed a limited number of phone calls with their family, but had not yet been transferred to the labor camps to serve their sentences.
At dawn this morning, the chartered plane carrying the pardoned journalists and former President Bill Clinton and his team, arrived at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif.
The sight of Lee and Ling descending the airplane staircase and reuniting with their families was overwhelming.
Click here for Washington Post Video of their Arrival.
Upon deplaning, Laura Ling and Euna Lee stood by the microphone with their Current TV boss Al Gore.
Laura Ling related, “Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp.
And then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting. We were taken to a location and when we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.”
“We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here home and free. Euna and I would just like to express our deepest gratitude to President Clinton and his wonderful, amazing, not to mention super cool team, including John Podesta, Doug Band, Justin Cooper, Dr. Roger Band, David Straub, Mengie Kwan, and the United States Secret Service, who traveled half way around the world, and then some, to secure our release.”
“We’d also like to thank President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Vice President Gore who we also call Al, the Swedish ambassador, Max Boyar, Kurt Tom, Linda and then the people at the U.S. State Department, who worked so hard to win the release of their fellow Americans.
Steve Bing and his crew, and Andrew Liveris and the Dow Company. And I know that I am forgetting a bunch of instrumental people right now, but forgive me if I’m a little incoherent.
To our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and to the complete strangers with the kindness of hearts who showed us so much love and sent us so many positive thoughts and energy, we thank you.
We could feel your love all the way in North Korea.
It is what kept us going in the darkest of hours. It is what sustained our faith that we would come home. The past 140 days have been the most difficult heart-wrenching time of our lives.
We are very grateful that we were granted amnesty by the government of North Korea and we are so happy to be home. And we are just so anxious right now to be able to spend some quiet, private time getting re-acquainted with our families.
Thank you so much.”
Next up to the microphone was Al Gore. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the family has asked me to say a few words and on their behalf, all of us, and on behalf of the staff and families of Current TV and my co-founder, Joel Hyatt, we want to welcome Laura and Euna home.
We want to thank President Bill Clinton for undertaking this mission and performing it so skillfully, and all the members of his team who played key roles in this. Also to President Obama, Laura mentioned this, but President Obama and countless members of his administration have been deeply involved in this humanitarian effort.
To Secretary Clinton and the members of the State Department, several of whom are here, they have really put their hearts into this. It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm’s way, that so many people would just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending, and we are so grateful to all of them.
To the thousands upon thousands of people who have held Laura and Euna in their prayers, who have written letters and called and sent e-mails, we’re very, very grateful.
To Steve Bing and all the folks who have made the flight possible, we say a word of thanks, deep thanks as well.
This has been an ordeal for them, but I want you all to know, your families have been unbelievable. Unbelievable. Passionate, involved, committed, innovative. You’ll hear a lot of stories, and they’re looking forward to hearing a lot of stories from you.
But Euna, Hana’s been a great girl while you were gone.
And Laura, your mom has been making your special soup for two days now, and to everybody who’s played a part in this — and again, a special thanks to President Bill Clinton, my partner and friend, so grateful, and ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming out.
We’re going to let these families have a full and proper reunion now, but thank you for coming out.”
Former president Clinton did not speak, but instead released this statement through his office, “I am very happy that after this long ordeal, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now home and reunited with their loved ones. When their families, Vice President Gore and the White House asked that I undertake this humanitarian mission, I agreed.”
Commenting on the release of the two journalists from the South Lawn of the White House, President Obama said, “We are obviously extraordinarily relieved. I had an opportunity to speak with the families yesterday once we knew that they were on the plane.
The reunion that we’ve all seen on television I think is a source of happiness not only for the families but for the entire country.
I want to thank President Bill Clinton — I had a chance to talk to him — for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists. I want to thank Vice President Al Gore who worked tirelessly in order to achieve a positive outcome.
I think that not only is this White House obviously extraordinarily happy, but all Americans should be grateful to both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work. And my hope is, that the families that have been reunited can enjoy the next several days and weeks, understanding that because of the efforts of President Clinton and Gore, they are able to be with each other once again.”
Photos: Laura Ling and Euna Lee are headed back to the U.S, with Bill Clinton
Kim Jong-il has granted a special pardon to detained journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee
Korean Central News Agency (kcna) reports that Bill Clinton has arrived in pyongyang
Ex-President Clinton to Visit North Korea Tuesday for Detained Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee
U.S. Calls for Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee to Be Returned Home
The Families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee Respond to Korean Central News Agency Report
A Statement from AAJA about Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korea Labor Prison
Allan Dodds Frank and Maya Lin Speak out at New York Vigil for Detained Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee
NYC Vigil to bring Laura Ling and Euna Lee home
U.S. State Department deputy department spokesman Robert Wood answers questions about detained journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee
Lisa Ling talks to Matt Lauer on The Today Show
Nationwide Vigils June 3 for Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee Detained in North Korea
The families of Detained Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee will be on The Today Show and Larry King on June 1
Multimedia: New York Vigil for the Release of Detained Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
Candlelight Vigils for the Release of Detained Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee in New York City, Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles and Orlando
U.S. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee Arrested by North Korea to Face Trial in June
AAJA Reacts to the News of Roxana Saberi’s Release, Laura Ling and Euna Lee Still in Custody in North Korea