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Journalists’ Return Sparks Debate on N. Korea Relations

After being held in North Korea for four months, two journalists for Current TV returned to the U.S. accompanied by former President Bill Clinton. Margaret Warner reports on the homecoming, and what the episode means for U.S. relations with North Korea.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Today was homecoming day for two American journalists who spent five months behind bars in North Korea. They'd been sentenced to 12 years at hard labor after being captured along the border, but they were freed yesterday after former President Clinton flew to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-il.

    Margaret Warner has our lead story.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The rescued and their rescuer landed early this morning at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, near Los Angeles.

    Laura Ling and Euna Lee were quickly overcome with emotion, Ling raising her arms in joy and Lee gathering up her young daughter, Hanna.

    They were met plane-side by their families, colleagues, and a throng of reporters and cameras.

    Hours earlier, former President Clinton greeted the women at the airport in Pyongyang after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered their release. It marked a successful end to Mr. Clinton's surprise 20-hour whirlwind stop in the North Korean capital, which included a meeting and dinner with Kim.

    Back on American soil today, Ling spoke of their ordeal and its resolution.

  • LISA LING, journalist:

    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 in 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.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Mr. Clinton did not speak at the emotional reunion this morning, but his former vice president, Al Gore, did. Gore is a co-founder of Current TV, which employs the two reporters.

    AL GORE, former vice president of the United States: 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.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    President Obama and his administration had avoided substantive comment on Mr. Clinton's trip while he was in North Korea.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Good morning, everybody.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But today in Washington, the president welcomed the results.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    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. Thank you very much.

  • JOURNALIST:

    How does this affect nuclear talks, Mr. President?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The president did not answer a shouted question about American policy toward North Korea, especially on the stubborn issue of its nuclear weapons program.

    But Mr. Obama's chief diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, emphasized her husband's trip was solely a rescue mission.

    HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: We have been working hard on the release of the two journalists. We've always considered that a totally separate issue from our efforts to re-engage the North Koreans and have them return to the six-party talks and work toward a commitment for the full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    White House officials insisted again today that Mr. Clinton carried no message or apology from President Obama to Kim Jong-il. They said the former president will brief the Obama national security team shortly on what happened during his time in Pyongyang.

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