Clinton, Journalists Arrive In U.S. From North Korea

Two American journalists, who were held by North Korea, have returned to the U.S. Laura Ling and Euna Lee had been sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally entering the country. Former President Bill Clinton secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il on Tuesday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's hear more now about the return of two American journalists. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained by North Korea and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. That was for illegally entering the country. Yesterday, former President Bill Clinton secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with North Korea's reclusive leader. And then today, the former prisoners stepped off a private jet in Burbank, California. NPR's Mandalit del Barco watched their arrival. Hi, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Hi, there.

INSKEEP: What did you see?

DEL BARCO: Well, they brought the private jet that they flew in in from North Korea into this hangar where I'm standing right now. And it was a very emotional reunion, a lot of tears and smiles and hugs as Laura Ling and Euna Lee stepped off the plane with former President Clinton. They were met by their families, including Lee's four-year-old daughter, who hugged her mother really tightly, and former Vice President Al Gore is here, as the head of Current TV, where the journalists were working.

INSKEEP: I wonder what you tell a four year old during that period when you don't know when her mother is going to return. Now let's get a listen to one of the journalists, Laura Ling, speaking earlier today after arriving in California.

Ms. LAURA LING (Journalists): 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 taking to a location, and when we walked in through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: Mandalit del Barco in California, she must of thought that was a hallucination.

DEL BARCO: You know, she was holding her hand over her heart as she spoke. And if you could hear, her voice was very shaky. And she was - she said she was shocked by the sight of Bill Clinton. And - but she thanked him and former President Al Gore, President Obama and his administration and all the people that had helped secure their release.

INSKEEP: You mentioned former Vice President Al Gore. He was on stage this morning, wasn't he?

DEL BARCO: That's right. He was here as the head of Current TV, where the two journalists work. You know, he had been working behind the scenes, as well, to help get them released, as well as a campaign of friends a supporters from around the world.

INSKEEP: Now, former President Clinton was photographed with North Korea's leader. Some of the photographs show him looking very stern-faced, determined, almost, not to smile, not to show any expression. He was going there because the gesture was necessary to get these people out. What, if anything, did he do and say today as he got off the plane?

DEL BARCO: Well, he didn't say anything to the reporters, but he did look very, very pleased and happy. And he was just smiling as everyone was hugging each other. I'm sure that they'll have - he'll have a lot more to say later. Well, let's hope so. And we also hear about how their ordeal went. So, you know, right now, they're going to be having a private reunion with their family. Understandably, they're probably, you know, anxious to just be back home safe and sound. So, you know, we're waiting to see if they'll talk more about what they went through.

INSKEEP: Mandalit, thanks very much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco, speaking at Bob Hope Airport in Southern California, where former President Bill Clinton arrived today, along with two American journalists who have just been released from North Korea. This is NPR News.

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