[UPDATE BELOW] Today, former president Bill Clinton met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Clinton made the surprise trip to the isolated Communist nation to discuss the release of two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were sentenced to 12 years in labor camps for illegally entering North Korea.

Kim, who has been out of the public eye as his health has apparently been declining, gave a dinner for Clinton. The NY Times reports, "The high-level meeting, along with welcoming gestures from the regime, added to speculation among analysts in Seoul that North Korea, after months of raising tensions and hostile rhetoric towards Washington, may be ready to return to dialogue with Washington. That notion was reinforced by North Korea’s Central TV, which reported that Mr. Kim and Mr. Clinton 'exchanged a broad range of opinions on issues of mutual interest.'" It was also reported that Clinton conveyed a verbal message from President Barack Obama to Kim, but White House press secretary Robert Gibbs simply said, "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."

However, a North Korea analyst, Professor Hazel Smith of Cranfield University (in the UK), told BBC News, "This is not a private mission, although it being billed as such. There is no way that [former] President Clinton, married to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton... would be taking this step without the full support of the US administration."

According to the Washington Post, the White House initially proposed that former Vice President Al Gore, who co-founded the new organizations that Lee and Ling work for, visit North Korea, "But North Korea rejected Gore as an envoy."

UPDATE:
Reuters has it that North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency is reporting that Jong-il has granted the two journalists a "special pardon," which releases them from detention. The pardoning of Euna Lee and Laura Ling was announced after Kim’s meeting with former Clinton. According to CNN, the Korean propaganda network is framing the pardon as a response to Clintonian sycophancy:

Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it. Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view. The measure taken to release the American journalists is a manifestation of the DPRK's humanitarian and peace-loving policy. The DPRK visit of Clinton and his party will contribute to deepening the understanding between the DPRK and the U.S. and building the bilateral confidence.

Truly, a more humane and peace-loving regime could not be imagined!