After former President Bill Clinton made a "surprise trip" to North Korea and secured the pardon of two imprisoned U.S. journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the trio made their way back to the United States. Their plane arrived in Burbank, California this morning, where the women made a tearful reunion with their families. Ling made a statement, expressing her and Lee's gratitude and remarking on the drama of their ordeal, "Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. We feared that at any moment we could be prisoners in a hard labor camp. Then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting," and then spoke of seeing Clinton. Here's video:
Lee and Ling, journalists for Current TV (a media venture co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, who was also present for the reunion—video of his remarks after the jump), were arrested in March on the grounds of illegally entering North Korea; they were sentenced to 12 years in labor camps in June. The former president's "private mission"—though it was arranged with the White House—was a high-profile visit to isolated North Korea. Clinton, who apologized (according to North Korean media; while the U.S. says he didn't) for Lee and Ling's actions, met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Kim, in turn, held a state dinner for Clinton; the AP reports, "Kim smiled broadly for a photo standing next to a towering Clinton. He was markedly thinner than a year ago, with his graying hair cropped short. The once-pudgy 67-year-old, who for decades had a noticeable pot belly, wore a khaki jumpsuit and appeared frail and diminutive in a group shot seated next to a robust Clinton."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been tangling with North Korea, told reporters in Kenya that she was "very happy and relieved" about Lee and Ling's release: "I spoke to my husband on the airplane and everything went well. We are extremely excited. It's just a good day to be able to see this happen." And President Obama was happy about the women's return and thanked former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their efforts (video of Obama's remarks also after the jump).
The former president's role is being analyzed; Donna Brazile said, "Bill Clinton still has the juice... I hope this is a sign of things to come given all the fires that this country faces. People trust him, and he has an important role to play. And this shows President Obama’s determination to try all kinds of diplomacy, including third-party diplomacy." And Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island), who worked with Clinton on a Northern Ireland peace deal, told the Daily News, "He's popular, he's an ex-President, and he's the husband of the secretary of state. He can be utilized in a semiofficial or unofficial way, yet he has all the trappings and aura of being a high-ranking government official...I give him a lot of credit, and this shows he can be used in the future."