Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is headed to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists imprisoned there since March, a source with detailed knowledge of the former president’s movements said Monday.
The women, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, are reporters for California-based Current TV, a media venture of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who served under Clinton. They were arrested while reporting on the border between North Korea and China and sentenced in June to 12 years in prison on charges of entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. Efforts to resolve the issue so far have been handled through Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in the reclusive communist state. Last month, Clinton’s wife — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — said the United States had dropped its request for Ling and Lee to be released on humanitarian grounds and instead was seeking amnesty, which implies forgiveness for an offense. Clinton’s mission comes as the United States and its allies in the region are trying to push North Korea back into stalled nuclear disarmament talks. North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test, its second, in May, and has conducted several missile tests since then. The United Nations responded by tightening and expanding sanctions on the North. The two nations were on opposite sides in the 1950-1953 Korean War and had no regular contacts before a 1994 crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea agreed at that time to halt the development of nuclear weapons, but abandoned that accord and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. Clinton had considered visiting North Korea in 2000, near the end of his second term as president. His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, had gone to Pyongyang in early 2000 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — now widely reported to be ill.